ARRIVAL IN NICARAGUA, Nov. 3, 2013
I awoke as my ears began to pop. Brandon was staring out the window. “Look… volcanos.” I peeked out and could see Lake Managua and a beautiful setting of lush green hills and volcanos. It made me think of the way Hawaii must look when you land there by plane. As we got closer to the ground I could see coconut palms and what was clearly a ‘suburb’ of Managua, with homes made from whatever people could find; like tin and palm fronds.
We landed, found our luggage and drug it to another check point before we could leave the airport. We were told that someone from the surf camp that we’d be working at would be there waiting for us with a sign. I was fairly familiar with this routine, so I felt comfortable with what was happening.
As I neared the door to exit, I saw a man staring at me with a piece of paper that read “Jessica” hand written in pen. I could read his lips as he said my name from the other side of the door. I nodded my head and he opened the door for me and quickly grabbed the heavy load I was carrying and began walking through the parking lot. Two more men grabbed our other bags and followed. Such great service, but I knew we’d have to tip them, and I hadn’t the slightest idea how much would be kosher in this country for a tip. All I had on me was US dollars and I didn’t even know the exchange rate. They loaded our bags and the smallest bills I had on me were two $5’s, so they each lucked out with food for the next week. Oh well.
The next challenge was communicating with the driver. It was such a chaotic moment. My Spanish was pretty decent once upon a time, but upon arrival in Nicaragua, it was practically non-existent. He mumbled some spanish at me that I didn’t understand and I looked at Brandon to see if he caught any of it. Of course, he had the same confused look on his face as myself. The driver seemed to notice that we weren’t understanding and tried to speak a bit of English. “I take you to Leon.” Startled, I said, “But we are going to Salinas Grandes.” He calmed himself a bit and said, “But I take you to Leon.” Suddenly the man made a quick phone call and handed me the phone. “Hello?” “Hola, Jessica… (something something something something….) in Leon …(something something something something something) in Leon… (something something) tonight.” Yeah. “OK! Thank you!” Brandon looked at me… “Who was that, and what did they say?” …”I don’t know, and I don’t know.”
We jumped in the car and went with it. There were two other men in the car besides the driver, so we rode in the back seat. I was crammed in the middle. It was sweltering hot and I’d arrived in leggings which I was now rolling up as far as I could. I put my hair up and tried to get a bit of a breeze but it just wasn’t happening. The streets were loud with cars, music, and people trying to sell you things. Stray dogs, pigs, chickens, cows and horses seemed to wonder aimlessly on the side walks. People seemed to be living in one roomed houses, open to the outside. The walls were often made of tin, wood or cement, and the roofs were generally made with scraps of things like tin, wood or palm fronds. The smell of the city was strong. I tried to hold my breath. There were fumes from all of the cars, and the smell of things burning, like maybe rubber. I could smell food cooking, though I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Either way, it was a miserable position to be in. Once I found the water bottle I was a bit more satisfied.
Parts of the ride on the way out of the city of Managua reminded me of places I’d been before, like Jamaica, Morocco, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It’s funny how everywhere you go in the world reminds you of other places you’ve been. It’s definitely a third world country, Nicaragua. It’s the poorest country in Central America. It had a Caribbean feel to it in a way, perhaps because I’d had so much experience in the Caribbean already, and none to speak of in Central America.
Once we were out of the city and could breath again, we passed fields of grasses with horses and cows. There were horses tied up nearly every 100 feet along the fence that bordered the road. Some of them were given a little more room to walk around than others. Most of them looked like they were well underfed. Occasionally we’d see enormous pigs and more cows walking around.
The phone rang and some Spanish was quickly spoken before the phone was handed back to me. “(Something something something something something)” ….”OK…” I really wished he’d just talk to me in Spanish because at this point, I figured I’d be better at understanding that way as opposed trying to make out this English. “Tonight at 6pm… (something something something) …in Leon” “OK. Thank you.” I really had no idea what was going on. I figured we’d just see what happened.
We reached a check point in the road where we were flagged down by police. He asked for the drivers’ identification and asked him to step out of the car. I expected this to be a normal event in Nicaragua, which it was. They spoke back and forth for several minutes before the police asked to see the trunk. The driver showed him our luggage and sent us on our way.
We drove into a populated area, up a hill, and arrived in Leon, a beautiful city with cathedrals, busy streets, and lots of people. It was much cleaner and more pleasant than Managua. I could see the volcanos in the distance, and I could sense that the ocean wasn’t too far away.